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'What Rhymes With Islamic State?' Militants Express Ideology Through Poetry

Islamic State militant and would-be poet Abuqaqa Britani

Islamic State militant and would-be poet Abuqaqa Britani

When Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote that poetry was an "act of peace," he presumably did not envisage that the art form would one day be taken up by violent Islamist extremists.

Though many media reports have highlighted how Western Islamic State militants have used the Internet to help recruit other European nationals to join the group, and to spread the extremist group's ideology, militants from IS and other groups are also using social media to share another kind of writing -- poetry.

One British Islamic State militant, who calls himself Abuqaqa Britani and (until he was recently banned) used to go by the name "greenbirdexpress" on the social networking site, has started posting his verse on Twitter. Abuqaqa writes mostly about how Islamic State's fight against the "infidels," which he presents as a grand battle of good against evil. He also expresses how he and his fellow militants are seeking "martyrdom," or death on the battlefield.

Poetry, tweeted Abuqaqa, is "what I do when I am bored."

In one poem, Abuqaqa refers to the U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State, saying that even though the United States has fighter aircraft, Islamic State still have an advantage:

They got planes but Allah is higher
Shaheed ["martyr"] dead don't be a lier [sic]
He just sold his soul and Allah is the buyer
For the kafir ["infidels"] it's hellfire

In another poem, Abuqaqa praises Islamic State militants, saying that they have chosen the path destined for them by Allah:

They chose 1 road
The way Allah enjoined
["sustenance" or "provision"] is from the sword
See them in a Hulix Ford
[sic -- a reference to the Toyota Hilux, a vehicle used by IS militants]
Chanting Allah akbar ["God is great"] till they loss [sic] a voice chord

Abuqaqa is not the only militant in Syria to write or share "jihadi poetry." North Caucasian militants in Syria, who brought the tradition with them from the North Caucasus, also share verse written by their fellow militants.

Indeed, North Caucasian "jihadi poetry" is so popular that there is a group, Poeziya Dzhikhada ["Poetry of Jihad"] dedicated to it on the Russian social network VKontakte. Poems, some written by jihadis in Russian prisons, are shared via the VKontakte group and also on sites run by Chechen militants in Syria.

Frequent topics in North Caucasian poems about jihad include militants' bravery on the battlefield, death (particularly death on the battlefield), and the need to defend women from the "infidels."

North Caucasian poems about the fighting in Syria have tended to focus on criticisms of those who waste time talking about the situation on the Internet rather than joining the battle.

In one recent poem about Syria, published on the website, which is run by Chechens in the Latakia-based Khalifat Jamaat faction, the Daghestani author criticizes such "armchair warriors," who he says post pictures of food on social media instead of defending hungry children in Syria. (The original poem was written in Russian):

Today you're filled with faith,
You filled your Internet profile to overflowing
With starving Syrian kids,
But the next day, that phase is over

And now you're showing off
Your delicious meals:
[Georgian dumplings], chudu [Azerbaijani meat pasties],kurze [Daghestani dumplings], manti [Uzbek dumplings],
There's a spicy sauce with garlic!

And here, dressed with onions,
Is a delicious, hot kebab,
Served up with a vegetable salad.
That cow didn't die in vain!

And the starving kids
Are forgotten for a while

The tradition of "jihadi poems" did not start in Syria and is not a new phenomenon. The founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, wrote poetry, some of which was found by U.S. forces in Kabul in 2001. The Al-Qaeda leader wrote about exile, betrayal, and siege -- and criticizes Arab nations for not rising up against attacks on Afghanistan.

While Abuqaqa Britani writes in a casual, street poetry style, bin Laden appears to imitate classical Arabic poetry. His ultimate message of fighting the "infidels" however, is hardly very different from that of the young British extremist. Bin Laden writes in his poem "The Travail Of A Child Who Has Left The Land Of The Holy Shrines:"

Is our defense to come from traitors
I swear by God the great
That I shall fight the infidel!"

While Abuqaqa says:

AK [presumably an AK-47 rifle] on my side get shahada ["martyrdom"] or keep trying
Dream I as a greenbird [a term used by some IS militants to describe themselves] flying

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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